COVID-19 outbreak plan

Read about how we'll respond to positive COVID-19 cases at ARU.

Summary

This plan summarises the University’s response in the event of confirmed COVID-19 cases at ARU. Actions in this plan are not exhaustive and provide high level guidance only. The plan is supported by detailed operational resilience plans and protocols.

Our plan has been tested in desktop, scenario-based exercises involving the local authority Public Health Teams and is proactively and continuously reviewed. The Directors of Public Health in both Essex and Cambridgeshire have agreed our outbreak plan and we have shared it with the Department for Education. Each subsequent iteration is shared with key internal and external stakeholders and published to our staff intranet as well as this abridged version appearing on our website.

It is important to note that our plan is subject to change, sometimes at short notice, in response to new advice and guidance being received from the UK Government and Public Health England (PHE).

In-person teaching and learning

Our plans for in-person Teaching and Learning are aligned with operational guidance provided by the Government. This guidance outlines the ways in which all universities can minimize risk during the coronavirus pandemic.

Read more about our teaching and learning plans

Asymptomatic testing and vaccination is strongly encouraged prior to students re-commencing face to face teaching and we expect staff and students to take tests regularly when they are on campus.

Prevention

Our focus is on creating safe and inclusive environments for those studying, working, or visiting our campuses and continuing to empower and support staff to work effectively and flexibly from home as ARU embraces an Agile working culture.

We have supported our staff and students to understand national guidance and observe the mitigations we have implemented to reduce the risk of virus transmission. Many existing mitigations including enhanced cleaning and ventilation as well as ensuring safe behaviours are maintained. We encourage everyone visiting our campuses to respect the personal space of others and wear a face covering. We also promote good hand and surface hygiene.

Read a summary of the COVID-19 secure measures we have implemented.

One of the corner stones of our safe environment is requiring anyone with COVID-19 related symptoms to remain at home, whether that is in private or University owned and managed accommodation.

We expect students and staff who are symptomatic to get tested in line with NHS guidance. Local test centres are operational within 1.5 miles of each campus location to facilitate this, and individuals supported to access to postal testing where needed. Staff and students can arrange a test online by visiting https://www.gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test, and are asked to let us know the test result as soon as they receive it.

An NHS COVID testing site is located on the Sawyers car park, on our Chelmsford campus. It is operated by the NHS and can offer a test to people who have booked one; this may include University students and staff. Several NHS test sites also operate around Cambridge and Peterborough.

We have also laid out our expectations of staff, student and visitor safe behaviour online and within our community pledge which is part of an open letter from our Vice Chancellor. 

The pledge sits alongside our Rules, Regulations & Procedures for students as well as our Staff Guide in terms of conduct and expected behaviours. It also augments the Student Charter which focuses on the educational commitment between ARU and our students as well as our University Values. We have included the pledge within the terms and conditions which students are presented at enrolment.

Testing

As part of the Government’s efforts to roll out asymptomatic COVID-19 testing across UK universities, we launched a University Collect with collection points at each of our campuses (including partner campus sites in London). Packs of lateral flow antigen tests for home use are distributed from the designated collection points.

We expect staff and students undergoing face to face teaching or working on campus either teaching or supporting our students one day a week to take a weekly asymptomatic COVID-19 Lateral Flow test, and advise staff and students working or teaching more than once a week on campus to take two tests a week where possible. This also applies to students living on, or within walking distance of our campuses. We expect staff and students to report results to the NHS.

Guidance on steps to take on receipt of a positive result is provided to staff and students. Individuals will follow the national and ARU self-isolation arrangements to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Students will be encouraged to use local community testing programmes and take a test before travelling if they are able to do so.

Vaccination

We continue to follow Government guidance around vaccinations and strongly encourage our staff and students to get vaccinated as soon as possible to help stop the spread of COVID-19. We do also recognise, and respect, that there may be valid medical, cultural, or other factors why individuals may not want or be able to be vaccinated.

Some of our health care courses may require students to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 to be placed in certain settings, such as care homes. This is subject to legislation being passed and if it does, will be implemented from October 2021.

Our position on vaccination is supported by an Open Letter from our Vice Chancellor - ARU and current information about vaccination for new and existing students is published on our website. This also includes specific guidance for international students.

We will continue to monitor Government and Sector guidance and communicate with students on any changes to explain what this means for them.

In support of the Government’s Vaccination program, we are working with Public Health and Local Council & GP services to ensure all students and staff have opportunities to be fully vaccinated and support any booster programmes necessary.

During welcome week (w/c 13/09/21) we are hosting temporary satellite vaccination centres at our Cambridge and Chelmsford campuses and encouraging new and existing students to attend.

Incident response

We recognise that even with these measures in place there will be cases of COVID-19 in our community. We have simple, effective mechanisms for staff and students to report both self-isolation as well as positive cases.

If someone becomes unwell, we have developed an internal protocol to manage this effectively. It establishes notification mechanisms, contact identification and the necessary communications in addition to allocating responsibilities to give a timely and appropriate response.

Our protocol is outlined below and recognises action for isolated cases as well as consideration of outbreaks.

Outbreak protocol

A dedicated MyHealth team, working on a rota seven days a week, provides support and coverage for the University in relation to COVID-19 related matters. Our service standard is ‘same day’ and quicker wherever possible with immediate actions taken on positive cases.

In the event a positive test result for COVID-19 is reported the following steps will be taken in addition to the prescribed cleaning arrangements.

1. Initial data collection

Details of the individual including date of symptoms and positive test result as well as the date and their activities when last on campus are compiled.

This is shared with public health officials using a secure online portal and an outline of the case sent to the Health Protection Teams.

2. Contact tracing

We will support NHS Test and Trace and work rapidly to identify those who have been in contact with the confirmed case.

For the purposes of contact tracing and isolation we will follow current NHS guidance on what is considered a ‘close contact’. Some ARU settings are considered NHS clinical settings (e.g., University Eye Clinic) and the appropriate guidance will be followed.

It is noted that there are now exceptions to self-isolation requirements depending on vaccination status or age. This is factored into our communications and, in keeping with our ethos of social responsibility, staff and students are advised to take action to isolate if required to do so. Those required to or choosing to self-isolate will be supported to do so.

All contacts of suspected Omicron cases will be required to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of your vaccination status. You’ll be contacted by NHS Test and Trace.

Personal details including address and telephone number are available within our student record and HR systems and a new report using tap and timetable data has been developed to identify both staff and students who were present in a classroom or library setting over a defined period. In some teaching environments registers may also be held and will support contact tracing.

Students have been reminded of the importance of informing us of any absence or illness as well as tapping into every class they attend.

More details about how we use your personal data for COVID-19 management can be found in our privacy notice.

3. Communication

We will write to those who were in the same teaching or work environment at the same time as the positive case offering reassurance and guidance. Residential contacts will also be identified, and appropriate advice given.

In many cases the threshold to require self-isolation will not be met as members of staff and students are asked to respect personal space where possible. In addition, and whilst not recognised by the NHS for the purpose of contact tracing, the use of visors (for staff) and face coverings further reduces the risk of transmission.

Anybody who does need to self-isolate will be contacted and asked to do so. Both practical and wellbeing support will be offered to them and any other ARU student they may live with.

Escalation

The threshold for number of cases that constitute an outbreak and public health intervention has been updated by DfE. It is now five cases within ten days, among students or staff clustered in a consistent group or if there are incidences of severe illness or hospitalisation.

This would be reported to public health officials and in liaison with the University senior management and public health officials a risk assessment of the outbreak may indicate that additional measures are required.

These measures may include temporarily requiring the use of face coverings in communal areas or teaching areas (for staff, students, and visitors), additional testing, enhanced contact tracing and support to self-isolate.

We know that in some instances, restrictions to university provision may need to be implemented with the key aim to retain face-to-face provision where it is safe to do so. The safety of our staff, students, visitors, and local communities is fundamental to the ARU mission and we have operational resilience plans and accommodation support plans in place to support this.

There would also be consideration of teaching in smaller groups, requiring 2m+ distancing and restricting the number of in-person teaching sessions. Where tighter restrictions are required attendance for those courses where in-person teaching is essential will be prioritised.

Please be aware that if it is agreed that halls need to be put into self-isolation this would happen at very short notice. See full details of how we will support students.